Limiting Cell Phone Use in Kids With ADHD

I’ve written about smartphones before…..we are pretty stringent in our household about limiting screens for our two boys with ADHD. I saw the negative effects screens had on my kids very early on with TV and videos. As they get older and the screens get smaller, I have been adamant about really promoting responsible smartphone use in my kids with ADHD. 

When my kids were younger, it was really easy to say no to a phone. But as they age, kids and smartphones are everywhere. Even though I know my son was not quite ready for a phone – even in 7th grade, I felt I had little choice in the matter.

Kids with ADHD have an even tougher time controlling themselves on a smartphone.

Smartphones and ADHD can be a tricky combo 

Kids with ADHD love the dopamine spikes they experience  from playing video games and using social media. However, this can make them become addicted much quicker and to a more intense degree than their typically wired peers.

Holding off and not getting my son a smartphone until the end of 7th grade was a great decision. In fact, one of the best decisions I’ve made as a parent of two boys with ADHD.

But the reason why I finally got my son with ADHD a phone may surprise you.

My ADHD kid has a phone and here’s why

The “just because everyone has one” argument has not worked for us — until now. By 7th grade it’s true, just about everyone does have a phone. 

Yes, a phone may give you peace of mind because you think your kid is safer.

It certainly is a convenient way to communicate, if you’ll be late for pick up or if your kid forgot something important at home. 

For us, it’s neither of those things. We got  my son a phone purely for social reasons.

For my ADHD kid in 7th grade, navigating friendships in a huge public school has proven very difficult for him.

Unfortunately, as we all know, middle school is all about fitting in.

Kids with ADHD can feel very different from their peers. My son’s uber healthy lunch, meetings with the social worker and therapy appointments already make him feel really different from his peers. 

And at a time when fitting in is everything, we got him a phone. 

We recognize the huge responsibility this puts on a kid’s shoulders who is impulsive and not quite as mature as I think he should be for a phone.  But we are doing this slowly and doing lots to begin promoting responsible smartphone use.

cell phone addiction for adhd kids

My son’s phone came with a big price…..

I have never underestimated the enormous responsibility that comes with giving kids a cell phone. 

In a time, when kids as young as 6 have their own phones, many parents, including myself and a whole host of Silicon Valley tech execs are going against what has become a societal norm. 

The responsibility is huge and those who create what our kids are doing on a screen seem to know this best

Letting my son have a phone goes against my values as a parent.  But, like many parents, we somehow feel an overwhelming push to get our kids phones, to go along with what everyone else is doing. 

The responsibility of a phone just felt like it was too much for my son to handle and me to supervise. 

When my son finally got a phone is 7th grade, we started very, very slowly with what he had access to on his smart phone. 

ADHD Kids and Responsible Phone Use

I love Devorah Heitner‘s analogy likening a Smartphone to the ocean.  You’d never just let your children wade into the ocean, alone, as far as they wanted, without your supervision.  So why would we hand over a cell phone and let our kids have at it? (Devorah’s book, Screenwise, is a must read, by the way)

Let your kids stand at the edge and get their feet wet first.

We know that kids appreciate structure, crave it in fact.  And using a smartphone should be no different.

Whether your kids are just starting with a phone or you feel you need to take a few steps back with what they have already been doing, there are lots of ways to set limits with a smartphone.

Easy ideas for setting limits with smartphones:

  • Let your child start by using your phone(sparingly) to text or call friends.
  • Have a family phone that can be used on an as need basis
  • Start off with having the phone, simply be a phone. With only calling or texting privileges, your child can ease into it. 
  • Limit Social Media or ban it completely…..you’ll be convinced after you read this article.
  • Smartphones can stay at home at first or only go to school on days when it will be needed.
  • Smartphones go on and off at certain times of the day…create a window during the day when cell phone use is acceptable, say 5 to 7 pm. 
  • Phones are not allowed in bedrooms or another unsupervised areas of the home. 
  • Phones go onto a central charging station every night and are not accessible until the next morning. 
  • Be clear from the beginning that you will be monitoring all content. It’s always easier to loosen up once things get going, than tighten the reigns if something goes awry. 
  • Get parental control software, like Apple’s Screentime or Webwatcher

Choose conversations over contracts

I am not big on phone contracts.

I believe if you have to have your kid sign a contract they are not ready for a phone.

I am focusing on conversations.  With an impulsive, ADHD kid I know there are going to be lots of mistakes….and in turn,  lots of conversations.

Here are some great talking points to consider:

  • What do you do when someone sends inappropriate content?
  • How do you navigate texts? Group texts? 
  • When is it appropriate to have a cell phone out?  How will your friend feel if you are on your phone all the time? 
  • How much phone use is too much?
  • How does having a phone make you feel? Are there any uncomfortable feelings it brings up?
  • Where do you keep your phone during the school day?

These can feel totally overwhelming for all parties included, so, I expect these conversations to happen slowly, over time.   But conversations are a great opportunity to not only voice your concerns, but listen to your child’s concerns, as well.

Know that your kids will mess up

Your kids are human, after all, and dealing with a lot more temptation than we ever had as kids.

Talk about this stuff before it happens and be clear about consequences.  

What happens if their phone falls in the toilet? If they send inappropriate content?

What if they seem to be addicted to their phones? If they stop doing other things they love, like reading or being with their family?

It is important to be clear, however, that you will be there for them every step of the way. You are in this journey together. 

Be responsible for your kids’ phone use

Cyber Cop, Richard Wistocki, is someone you should know.  He spoke at my son’s Montessori school and my parenting was forever changed. 

Wistocki likens giving a cell phone to an 11 year old to giving your kid the keys to your brand new Porsche and letting them have a it!

We have to be responsible for our ADHD kids cell phone use. 

The cell phone is not theres, it is ours and there is no such thing as privacy when it comes to a child. 

You must be checking contacts, social media, monitoring your children remotely, and having lots of conversations. 

But the conversations need to be open and understanding.  Your kids have to realize you know they may make mistakes and they must know that they can come to you at any time and let you know they have messed up. 

We never want our kids to hide something from us because they are afraid of how we will respond. 

If you haven’t already seen Wistocki’s TED Talk, watch it now. 

Pay attention to your use of technology

This may be more important than all the other points combined.

Kids do what you do, not what you say.  

Your kids are watching your smartphone use, very carefully.

Just this week, my son said to me one night, “Why can’t I do  lots of texting, like you are right now, Mom?”

He caught me. 

I try really hard to put my phone down when I’m with my kids. But it’s often impossible to do, when part of my livelihood depends on it. 

But, my son having a cell phone is a great opportunity for me to be much more mindful about my cell phone use.

To be honest, my cell phone often stresses me out, so I am glad to be putting it down a bit more.

Stop the mindless surfing and scrolling around your kids. What a great opportunity to spend more time with them. They deserve it — and so do you!!

Extra important point: If you have a kid who is a year or two away from driving,be extremely careful about any cell phone use in the car.  I make it a point to pull over if  I ever need to check for directions or answer an important call in the car. 

Enhancing daily life, not escaping it. 

It will be awhile before my son gets access to the web on his smartphone. But the way we use screens at home is already setting the stage.

We promote screen use that expands horizons, celebrates the natural world, teaches us a skill, or connects us to others. The internet is filled with amazing stuff!!!  Show your kids that smartphones are not just about texting and watching mind numbing Youtube videos.

Model a wonder of the world around you.

Spend lots of time with your kids doing things that have nothing to do with a screen. Get out the old toys or games and they’ll be like new again. Invite friends over for game night. Hike a local path.

Put some effort into this because you’ll definitely reap what you sow here.  Look for Groupon deals or free days at the museums in your area, visit libraries in neighboring towns, hold the kittens at a pet store.

Do your kids have a smartphone?  I am curious how you handled the first few months?

Great further reading about kids and screens:

Screenwise, by Deborah Heitner

The Tech-Wise Family, by Andy Crouch

Raising Humans in a Digital World, by Diana Graber

Reset Your Child’s Brain, by Victoria Dunkley

Need more help with your ADHD Kid?

Our Epic Post about how to limit screens for ADHD Kids is HERE.

Get our Best Lunch Ideas for ADHD Kids HERE.

A list of our Proven Natural Remedies for ADHD is HERE.